In a video press conference on Friday, Tennessee Senate Democrats outlined their vision of what the road to economic recovery should look like, proposing numerous measures to increase revenue, cut costs and expand health coverage to Tennesseans.
State Rep. Glen Casada, who represents the eastern portion of Williamson County in the state legislature, shared his thoughts on some of those proposals with the Home Page.
Implementing cost-saving reforms
“We can cut $100-$150 million in program reductions or delays in a no-growth budget,” said State Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis).
“For example, our private school voucher program can go. We need to withdraw the repeal on the Professional Privilege Tax, we need to pause the repeal of the income tax on stocks and bonds (Hall Income Tax) and we need to expand marketplace facilitator rules to include companies with $100,000 of online sales.”
The school voucher program, which allows for eligible families to send their children to private schools using public funds, has generated controversy for its $37 million price tag - funds that would ordinarily be funneled into public schools.
In a message to the Home Page, Casada expressed his strong opposition to eliminating the school voucher program, arguing that it served as a lifeline to many Tennessee children who are “trapped in dangerous schools."
“Children are trapped in dangerous schools,” Casada wrote in a message to the Home Page. “Let’s help them to get out of those failing and dangerous schools and let them choose how to get their education with their family’s tax dollars.”
The Professional Privilege Tax is an annual tax for individuals licensed or registered to practice law and other professions in the state.
The Hall Income Tax is a tax on interest and dividend income from investments, and was voted to be phased out in 2016 through 2022.
The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a nonprofit tax policy organization, found that eliminating the Hall Income Tax would “overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy,” with the bottom 95% of Tennesseans seeing just 14% of the collective $341 million in tax cuts, and nearly two-thirds of the tax cuts going to the wealthiest top 5% of Tennesseans.
Market facilitator rules refer to a April 2020 bill signed by Governor Bill Lee that requires online marketplaces with more than $500,000 in annual sales to collect and remit taxes on remote sales. Akbari had argued that the threshold should be lowered to $100,000, given the new reliance on online sales and as a means to generate more revenue for the state.
Regarding all of the proposed repeals and pauses on tax cuts, Casada stood strong in his opposition of any and all forms of tax increases, particularly in the middle of such economic uncertainty.
“I strongly oppose any tax increase at a time like this when families are suffering,” Casada wrote. “Government is the one that should cut back - not families or business.”
Extend health coverage to every frontline worker
“We have to extend health care coverage to every frontline worker,” said Akbari. “These numbers are very stark; 468,000-675,000 adults and children did not have health care coverage before the pandemic. We all know that 530,000 Tennesseans have lost their jobs, and most of those folks will also lose health care coverage with that.”
The solution, Akbari argued, was Medicaid expansion, something Tennessee Democrats have long fought for.
“I know folks will say the Democrats are beating that old drum - there’s a reason why we are, it’s because there are billions of dollars on the table that can help Tennesseans right now,” Akbari said.
“In a global health care pandemic, I don’t know how we would not expand Medicaid. Our workers who make minimum wage who have been stocking our grocery shelves, who have been working in our fast food restaurants… those workers put their lives on the line every day, and most of them do not have insurance. That is not only a moral crime, it’s an economic crime.”
State Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) argued that beyond the benefit of providing an estimated 300,000 Tennesseans with health care coverage, expanding Medicaid at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion would grant the state $1.7 billion in federal funds, allowing for the measure to be a net positive to the tune of $211 million.
Those federal funds, Yarbro said, would come from the state’s ability to raise assessments on hospital revenues, which, in turn, would “pull down an extra $9 in federal money for every $1 of hospital [revenue] assessment.”
Rep. Glen Casada reiterated his previous stance on Medicaid expansion, and argued that such a measure would ultimately place an undue cost to taxpayers.
“I strongly oppose the expansion of the Medicaid program,” Casada wrote in a message to the Home Page. “It would not save the state money but would cost the state to expand the program, and thus, cost taxpayers.”